Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Carolyn McCulley

I have just finished reading this book, following along with the Equip Book Club website.

Ali's comments on that website are much more thorough and thought- out that my few comments will be here. However, I still thought I would post a few thoughts.

Generally, I enjoyed this book and thought it has some helpful points to make, both from Scripture and from personal testimony. Because it is written by a woman, it added a different perspective on singleness that a book like The Single Issue (by Al Hsu, see review here).

It is always hard for me to really know whether a book on singleness is helpful for a single person, as I have been married for almost 10 years. Having said that, she offers a helpful perspective and biblical counsel on a number of areas of life, which really could be relevant for all, men or women, single or married.

Some of the points she made which I learnt from or was challenged by were:

1. Her comment, quoting C.J. Mahaney that "Your greatest need is not a spouse. Your greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God- and that has already been accomplished for you through the death and resurrection of Christ." [He goes on to say that "So why doubt that God will provide a much, much lesser need" - a less helpful point in some ways, God may not provide a spouse]. His original point stands thought - our greatest need in this world is salvation, and we have that.

2. The question one should ask is "What is God doing with and through my singleness?" (rather than "Why am I still single?")

3. Speaking of contentment, she says that the difference between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint - in one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God. It is a good reminder that in all things in life we should first turn to God, trusting him and his plans for us.

4. Her openness in stating that she wished that the plight of those that reject God would move her as much as her own desires - how often does she grieve over her singleness but not over those who will never know God and his salvation? This is a reminder to all of us to look above our personal situations to see also what grieves God.

5. In the chapter on children, she looks at other ways to be involved with children, including an 'au pair' - living with a family almost as an adopted aunt. The idea has great positive benefit, but is unlikely to work for many families. She speaks of the joy of being an aunt, and I think there are many benefits to being involved with a family (without living with them), that women can have.
  • As a mother myself, and knowing a number of single women, I think perhaps it would be helpful to encourage single women to be involved in the lives of children, if they want to be. I don't want to force my kids on anyone, but I know there are women out there who may want to have time with children and form a special relationship with them. I wonder perhaps, if it is up to that person to approach the family and ask to be involved? I do not want to assume a desire to spend time with my family, but would be delighted if someone took that initiative. What do others think, is that too much to ask - would it be too daunting to ask to be closely involved in the life of a family?

There were some parts of the book that caused me think a little more:

1. I did find some discontinuity throughout the book. It seemed that half the time she was encouraging women to see how to serve God and others through their singleness, and to find contentment in their status; and the other half, she was challenging them to consider how their decisions may affect future husbands or how to prepare to become a better (potential) wife. I wonder if this may bother some single readers? For example:
  • On p63 she suggests that one should pray to be a good wife. I understand that we all should be praying to be more godly women, but is it possible that for someone who is single and struggling with it, even the act of regularly praying to 'be a good wife' may add to feelings of resentment?
  • p118 - she advised a woman not to get into a lot of debt in furthering her education because of the implications that debt may have on a future marriage. She did temper this later in the chapter suggesting that it may be appropriate to invest wisely in your education, for if one remains single one will continue to need to work, or perhaps to invest in buying a home. I wonder if the concern at that stage is not whether the investment would impact a potential future marriage, but rather will the woman be able to repay the debt without it impacting of her ability to serve God generously, both in time and money
2. I wasn't sure whether the chapter on hospitality had the most helpful focus. She was encouraging women to learn to cook and have proper dinner parties. But is that really hospitality or just entertaining? I found myself (probably harshly I admit) thinking that having dinner parties is a luxury that single people (and those married without kids) are able to have. We have dinners in our home regularly, but they almost all consist of the use of a slow-cooker that has been on all day, entirely because it is impossible to prepare a "dinner party quality meal" with 3 children under foot all needing to be fed and put into bed between 5 and 7pm. I would love to have the time to experiment with recipes and prepare new meals, but it is just not possible.
  • She also encourages single women in this chapter to invite families into their homes. I think this is great, although sometimes I feel hesitant (on the very few times we have actually received such an invitation). Houses without children are understandably not set up for them, and the stress of ensuring my kids don't pull over the wine rack, CD/DVD rack, glassware etc is very large. One potential solution which other wise friends have come up with is to 'have us for dinner' but in our own home. They come to us and prepare and serve the meal, but we can still be in our home where our children are entertained and can go to sleep in their own beds (without the need for a babysitter either!)
3. I also found some comments in the chapter on "the blessing of children" interesting. She starts by talking about the barren women in the bible and how God intervened to bless them with children in older years. This is certainly not a promise I would be giving to older single women. Those miraculous interventions of God were all part of God fulfilling his plan of salvation in keeping the genealogy of Christ intact. While I do not doubt God's ability to act to allow women who are barren the miracle of childbearing, it seems unhelpful to encourage women with this.

4. My other concern, and a minor one at that, is the title of the book. Is that really a title a single woman would want on her bookshelf? And is it likely to prevent someone from reading it? Too late really to pose that thought, but I did wonder! I actually came across Carolyn's blog, in which she notes in passing that had she realised the impact of the title, she may never have used it!
At the end of each chapter, McCulley includes a resource list, which I thought was very helpful. I intend to sort through them all again and note the ones I would like to read.

All in all, a book with a lot of helpful things in it.

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